Part Three, The deeper healing in recovery
1st June 2020 | Author: Bianca Skilbeck
Last month, in a 3-part series dedicated to the time we are experiencing in the Covid-19 pandemic, I shared a piece detailing 3 things that you can do to feel more in charge, if you are struggling with mental health during isolation. If you would like to revisit this piece, you can do so HERE.
In continuing the theme, this month’s post is dedicated to the deeper work that you can do, as you seek recovery.
This piece is written from the perspective of eating disorder recovery, however rest assured that these principles can just as easily be applied if you are experiencing addiction, depression, anxiety or any other type of mental health issue.
You can do this deeper work on your own, however, if you are really struggling, it may also be advised to do so with the guidance of a trusted therapist. If you have any questions about how this might work, feel free to get in contact HERE.
As you read through these suggestions for deeper work, understand that you don’t need to attend to them all at once. In fact, you shouldn’t attend to them all at once. As you read, just focus on perhaps one point which resonates as particularly important for you, for now.
After figuring out which point resonates for you the most, you may spend some time journaling. Questions you could consider might be:
- What comes to mind when I think of this point?
- What action items might be relevant for me in order to address this point?
- Are there any resources or supports that I might need in order to address this point? For example, a doctor, therapist, trusted friend, community or group? Perhaps a new journal, some paper, or physical space which you can dedicate to this deeper work?
- Could I consider scheduling some time each day, week or month to address this point?
- What else might I need to consider?
In terms of how long you spend, there really is no right or wrong way to go about this. You can spend the week, the month, or as many months as you need if that is what it takes, just focusing on one point at a time.
Be patient with yourself. Know that it takes time. Aim for progress, not perfection.
The Deeper Work in Recovery
1. Create a timeline
Creating a timeline helps to trace the roots of your eating disorder back to the source, and help to understand the patterns that evolved since. You can do this by drawing it out on a large piece of paper, writing it down in a journal, making a series of post-it-notes or whatever creative way you might think of.
When did you first notice a change in your relationship wtih food? For some folks, this may go a long way back in to adolescence or childhood. Perhaps it might go back to a time when it’s hard to exactly remember or pinpoint. As you go over your timeline, ask yourself some questions. What was happening in my life at these times? Were there some difficult situations or circumstances I was in? Did I have particular beliefs or motivations which were present at the time?
Often, when going back over our timeline, we find that we go back to times when we had less resources. We might have had less power, ability to stand up for ourselves, ability to say what we need, and perhaps fewer tools to manage difficult emotions or situations.
Give yourself some understanding as you go through your timeline, and try to remind yourself that none of this was or is your fault. Usually we are just doing the best that we can, with what we have got.
The purpose and the power in retracing your timeline is to allow a sense of perspective as well as self-compassion to filter in to your experience today. When you can see your current day patterns through a lens of self-compassion, you can begin to understand with a fuller perspective, where you have come from. Then you can begin to tackle the harsh inner voice that often accompanies an eating disorder and you can begin the process of making peace with those parts of yourself that feel the most tricky, uncomfortable or destructive.
2. Work on Developing Self-compassion
Do you find yourself using food (either an abundance or a lack thereof) in some way to manage difficult emotions or situations?
If you can relate to this, first of all, understand that there is nothing wrong with you for seeking ways to find reassurance or comfort through food. Food is comforting, it IS emotional. There is nothing wrong with you if you are connecting food and emotion. After all, how would any of us know what to eat if we couldn’t tap in to how we feel?
Food is connected to feeling and the idea that it is not or that it shouldn’t be, is a lie and a myth perpetuated by diet culture. In diet culture, many of us have been led to believe that eating in response to a feeling is bad and so we’ve tried to stop doing that, and guess what? When we fear and demonise particular behaviours or types of food, then they become the very thing that we cannot stop thinking about and gravitating towards. It’s the law of attraction at work and more than that, it is your body doing what it is biologically designed to do; to keep you alive.
In those difficult moments, allow yourself to bring in some perspective. If you are using food in response to difficult emotions, it is okay, just allow yourself to relax the judgement for a moment. Take a deep breath and offer yourself some compassion and calm. Ask yourself; what is something kind that I can say to myself right now? What would I say to a friend in this moment if they were struggling? What is the truth about how I am feeling right now? Scared, fearful, sad, alone? Again, you may start to journal on this point, make a series of post-it-notes, or even talk to a trusted person about this concept.
Allow yourself to sit with those feelings and seek support if you need to.
Be patient and reassure yourself that you are working towards developing a broader range of coping tools and skills. Developing self-compassion is a process which takes time, but it is well worth it in the long run.
You can read more about self-compassion HERE.
3. Name your values
What are your values and what truly motivates you? These are questions that only you can answer, no one else can or should answer them for you.
Many of us have spent a lifetime doing what we ‘should’ do, or what we’re told is right; all the while, battling upstream because those things might not merge with our actual values or sense of who we are. This is why it’s so hard to follow the advice of so-called ‘motivation gurus’; because what has worked for someone else can rarely work for you. If you have ever have found yourself in this position, this is what is known as the difference between experiencing an extrinsic or external (i.e. the motivation guru) motivation, versus an intrinsic or internal motivation.
Therefore, to understand what your values are, firstly, don’t look to what you think you should be doing or even necessarily what ‘your ideal self’ would do. Start with what you actually do. What do you give the most thought and mental energy to? What would you never drop the ball on, or what would you never allow to go to the wayside? What is it that you are really committed to?
Next, ask yourself; what is it that motivates your actions in this area? What is it that drives such a deep sense of commitment to this? (HINT: this WILL be a feeling).
Here is where it starts to become multi-layered. You may find that what drives some of your deepest motivations or commitments are values such as a sense of love, belonging, connection, integrity or responsibility. Or it may be other things such as self-worth, importance or validation. Know that these last three are also ways of expressing love or protection for yourself, though they may underneath be motivated by things like hurt, fear or rejection.
Responding to emotions such as hurt, fear or rejection is not bad, in fact it’s entirely neutral.
What makes the difference however, is what strategies we use to respond to them and if they are productive and helpful in our lives, or if they are unintentionally destructive or damaging. Understanding that these motivations first and foremost come from a good place, is the first step towards change. Be kind to yourself about this.
None of what deeply drives you is in any way wrong or bad. Everyone is different and all this is, is finding ways to know yourself better. This particular point can be really deep work, so again, if this brings up anything big for you, it may be worth working through it all with a trained and trusted therapist.
So the next question is, which of these points resonated the most for you? Which will you begin on?
I’d love to hear your feedback and what resonated the most for you, feel free to get in contact HERE, even if it is just to say hello. I wish you all the best in your continued recovery.